Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Scarlet C

Most people know that last summer New York City passed a law requiring restaurants with 15 or more outlets to post nutritional information for each menu item right next to its price. So a few months later, has the food climate in NYC changed?

This NYT story from late October gives a few anecdotes to show that it has. It describes how a mediocre seller at one restaurant became the #1 favorite once customers found out that the entree only had about 350 calories vs. the 600 or so in the former best seller. Some restaurants are switching to lower fat and calorie versions of their old recipes to prevent customers from going into sticker shock, and some are just reducing portion sizes to make their dishes seem healthier.

So is this a good idea? I think so, but probably not for the same reasons the New York City Council does. Sure educating the population is great, but this campaign taps into one of the timeless methods of changing human behavior: shame.

A Venti-size mint Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino® blended creme with chocolate including whipped cream has a whopping 680 calories and 21 grams of fat. Would you buy one if you had to see that nutritional information right next to the price? Yeah, maybe. But would you still buy one if everyone around you in line knew you were ordering a 680 calorie "coffee"? Or would that healthier 120 calorie sugar-free vanilla latte start to look a lot more appealing?

I can just imagine the battle of wills that would go on inside my own head:

Will The First: You want the chocolaty chip frozen goodness!

Will The Second: No, the barrista will judge you. She'll wonder if you can't read, don't understand Arabic numbers, or are on a suicide mission.

Will The First: But it's so much tastier than the sugar-free latte. Plus, sugar-free hurts your stomach.

Will The Second: That skinny girl ahead of you just ordered something with only 100 calories in it. You don't need more than that.

Will The First:
It's not that big of a deal. You rarely come here. You might as well treat yourself.

Will The Second: If you order that drink everyone in this entire Starbucks will know you are a fat slob with no self control.

At that point Will The First would probably give in. Maybe not to the sugar-free vanilla latte, but it could definitely compromise on something that wasn't so... over the top.

It sounds a little silly, but if you don't believe that public shaming works, just ask all the smokers who used to be cool and now have a "filthy habit."

60 min spinning
2 sets of stairs
lower body DVD, abs